Soft Skills Are Essential for DevOps

Recent research by the DevOps Institute shows that soft skills such as collaboration and creativity are becoming just as vital for DevOps success as technical knowledge and expertise.

Current DevOps upskilling trends, best practices, and business impacts were researched and the following trends were reported:

  • Process skills and process knowledge were the top must-have skills for DevOps.
  • Interpersonal skills (or “soft” skills) have risen up the rankings and are now the second most important skill, with collaboration and cooperation being the top must-have soft skill.
  • Automation expertise was third in the list of skill requirements.
  • DevOps adoption, Agile and site reliability engineering (SRE) have all gained popularity as must-have skills.
  • Knowledge of CI/CD tools and pipelines are a must-have skill.
  • The DevOps Engineer role title has almost doubled in popularity.
  • External recruiting is still the predominant hiring model.

The report shows that DevOps adoption is moving on to the next stage in it’s development. At first, organisations and users were learning about the technology and tools, its potential benefits and gaining implementation experience.

More recently organisations have moved on to getting DevOps processes in place and have also recognized the importance of having people with the correct interpersonal skills needed to implement and use DevOps methods.

Top Skill Categories for DevOps

The top skill categories in order of importance are:

  1. Process skills and knowledge
  2. Interpersonal or “soft” skills
  3. Automation skills
  4. Functional knowledge (e.g. cloud, storage, networking, etc)
  5. Specific automation tools
  6. Business skills
  7. Specific certifications

DevOps transformations need human skills

DevOps transformations are hard, and the challenges are in equal parts due to people, technology and processes.

These transformation to a DevOps collaborative model represents a huge change for an organisation, its culture and current way of doing things. Resistance to change is a normal response, and it takes commitment and a fundamental change in mindset to help people to recognize the value that DevOps brings to the organisation.

Also key is to recognize the value that strong human and interpersonal skills bring to a team, and to have the will and resources to foster this valuable skill set in employees.

Top 5 DevOps soft skills

The top 5 DevOps soft skills are:

  1. Collaboration
  2. Interpersonal skills
  3. Problem solving
  4. Sharing and knowledge transfer
  5. Flexibility

The ideal DevOps person is a hybrid

The term “hybrid jobs” means jobs that combine skill sets that traditionally were never found in the same jobs.

Today, one in eight job posting is highly hybridized according to research conducted by Burning Glass. Looking at close to a billion job postings and employee resumes from millions of companies, they found that jobs are becoming more “hybrid,” more complex, and demand new sets of skills.

The “hybrid” DevOps person is knowledgeable in a wide area of fields ranging from technology skills such as cloud infrastructure, to functional skills such as IT operations, process and frameworks skills such as SRE or Agile and exposure to automation tools and processes.

This technical knowledge together with strong interpersonal soft skills such as collaboration and cooperation, combined with business acumen, make a perfect hybrid DevOps Engineer.

Such “hybrid” candidates are hard to find but are essential for DevOps success. One-quarter of all occupations in the U.S. economy show strong signs of hybridization, and they are almost always the fastest-growing and highest-paying jobs.

Finding and attracting skilled people continues to be a challenge

Finding and attracting skilled DevOps people is still the number one challenge faced by organisations. In a recent study 58% of respondents said that finding people with DevOps skills is a huge challenge, and 48% reported that the retention of skilled DevOps individuals is also extremely difficult due to high demand.

In the U.S., salaries can be as high as $180,000 for experienced people, and individuals who have the right skills and experience, and who are good negotiators, can secure well-paid jobs. Organisations in financial services, healthcare, manufacturing and distribution, and technology are all eager to find and develop DevOps and tech talent.

Human resource teams recognize the skills gap and are increasingly offering very desirable job roles and self-development opportunities in order to attract much needed talent.

With the constant changes in key skills required to implement DevOps, IT organizations are being continually challenged. .

DevOps upskilling needs constant attention

The challenges faced in upskilling are not new and, according to the World Economic Forum, is the biggest global challenge currently in technology and IT.

Companies such as Federal Express, Amazon (investing $700 million in upskilling in 2020), AT&T, Google (investing $1 billion in upskilling in 2020) and PwC have announced large investments in retraining and upskilling their workforce. And 31% of respondents in a recent survey indicated that formal upskilling programs had been setup within their organizations to address the skills shortage and to help retain key staff.

IT organizations must work closely with human resources and adapt their hiring strategies to match the pace of their transformation to DevOps, in order to spot, nurture and retain talent in key roles.

And individuals must learn to be flexible and commit to ongoing skills training and development to keep their skills up to date and relevant to the organisation’s goals.

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